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Photo: Mizuki Production/via Kyodo
An amabie drawn by the late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki. The amabie, says National Public Radio, is a “sea monster from 19th century Japanese folklore that has become an Internet meme and pop culture mascot in the fight against COVID-19.”

Isn’t it interesting how we turn to ancient wisdom and mythology to find meaning in crisis? It’s not so much that we believe in fantasies, but we begin to realize that metaphor may have something to tell us that can’t be captured in headlines or scientific reports.

Consider the little amabie, a friendly, protective monster that has risen up from Japanese folklore to address coronavirus.

From the Japan Times: “Social media users have been getting creative recently with images of a legendary Japanese [monster] said to have emerged from the sea and prophesied an epidemic. …

“The story of the half-human, half-fish amabie monster was first featured in a 19th century woodblock-printed news sheet from the Edo Period (1603-1868). The creature was depicted with long hair and a beak, and a body covered in scales.

“An amabie is said to have [told a Kumamoto] official, ‘There will be a bountiful harvest for six years, but disease will also spread. Quickly draw a picture of me and show it to the people.’ …

“On March 6, Kyoto University Library posted on its Twitter account a picture of the original news sheet, dated April 1846, with an illustration of an amabie and a description beside it. …  Since then, social media users have posted amabie images in myriad forms — including clay figurines, embroidery, paper cutouts and manga — alongside phrases wishing for an early end to the current pandemic. …

“A drawing of the monster by late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015) [was] published on the Mizuki Production Twitter account on March 17. …

” ‘Japan has traditionally had a custom of trying to drive off epidemics by such means as drawing oni ogres on pieces of paper and displaying them,’ said Yuji Yamada, a professor at Mie University who is well versed in the history of faith practices in Japan.

“ When many people are suffering and dying, our wish for an end (of the pandemic) is the same in all ages,’ he said.” More at the Japan Times, here.

National Public Radio (NPR) points out that even the Japanese health ministry has pressed the amabie into service:

” ‘Stop the infection from spreading!’ The words appear to come straight from the beak of a creature with a bird’s head, human hair and a fish’s scaly body, in a recent public service announcement from Japan’s health ministry.’ ” More at NPR, here.

P.S. Since most of us continue to be fascinated by humanoids sporting fish tails, I have to point you to Asakiyume’s post about a real-life maker of mermaid and merman tails, here.

Art: Kaori Hamura Long
At NPR, another illustration of an Amabie.

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